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Has To Pull Up Her Sleeves For This One

| Learning | January 1, 2014

(Our teacher is a young woman in a wheelchair who always wears long-sleeved tops, even in summer. This semester there has been a problem with one of the taller boys picking on a younger girl.)

Teacher: “Class, I need to talk about bullying today.”

Bully: “Did [Girl] snitch?”

(The girl looks really frightened and I begin to worry.)

Teacher: “No, it’s the curriculum. Please, settle down and I’ll talk.”

Bully: “You do realize you can’t physically do anything to stop me? I can do what I want here and you can’t stop me?”

(The teacher leaves the classroom just before recess. I see one of the other teachers drive her away. When she comes back, she is wearing a different top and unbuttoned coat.)

Me: *to friend* “What’s she doing?”

Friend: “I don’t know. Maybe she got her top dirty.”

(In class, she wheels to the front of the room and looks very serious.)

Teacher: “Now class, I think I need to talk more about bullying. It is NOT a good thing, and it traumatizes children.”

Bully: “Yeah, but what you gonna do about it?”

(Wordlessly, the teacher takes her coat off and we gasp. Along her arms are lots of tiny scars. She looks a bit upset but I can see she’s trying to be strong.)

Teacher: “How about my wheelchair?”

(She gets a PowerPoint presentation out and shows herself on the screen. It is an old photograph of herself aged about ten on a chair in a princess outfit. She’s smiling and not using the wheelchair. And the next is of her sitting down at a party table with long sleeves. The last photograph is of her in her wheelchair at her graduation ceremony. The teacher then stops the PowerPoint and gets the last picture up on the main screen. She clicks a remote so the picture enhances. We see bags under her eyes, a tiny scar on her hand holding the degree and – most shocking – red marks around the middle of her neck.)

Me: “Miss? Are you okay?”

(She looks away from the screen, a little startled.)

Teacher: “You see class, bullying is NOT OKAY. I was lucky they noticed it before it went too far. Two more minutes though…” *she suddenly snaps out of whatever she thought of* “And the thing is, you have to be strong. Don’t let them pressure you into hurting yourself. Because they win.”

(The bully immediately runs out of the classroom. We don’t see him again since he was expelled for other things besides bullying. That was five years ago. Now that I’ve graduated, I keep thinking about how strong my teacher was in that last photograph and how she still tried to keep herself going. Thank you, miss, if you’re reading this. You’re amazing.)

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